Friday, October 23, 2009

The best boy there ever was!

Lucy en repose

Thursday, October 01, 2009


As many of you may know, Seigfreid’s Funeral March was one of my father’s favorite pieces. The music not only mourned the death of a great hero but it also celebrated his life. That is what we are here to do today. To not only mourn the passing of an incredible man and unbelievably great father but to celebrate a hero’s life.

My father is and always will be my hero. He was the unshakeable foundation on which I built my life. He represents everything that I want to be, everything I should be. Hard work, honor, family, unconditional love, passion for life, a constant yearning to improve, to move forward yet remember the past. This is what made him the most uncommon man.

He came to this country alone, a kid who barely spoke English, making a few dollars a week unloading boxcars. He said that one of the primary ways that he learned English was through Baseball. He always told the story about sitting in the bleachers in Yankee Stadium and asking out loud in German as to what was happening during the game and then the crowd turning around and looking at him like he was crazy. He would read the newspapers about his beloved Yankees and learn English and about life in this country.
It was always amazing to me that he actually saw Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play. He could regale you with stories of Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul- how they were driving along and got separated at a railroad crossing and then did not see each again for years. Or how they refused to pitch to Hank Greenberg because he was Jewish when he came close to breaking Babe Ruth’s record. I think he still has that yellowed photograph from the 1936 World Series that his mother cut out of the newspaper. She drew a huge arrow on the picture of the crowd at Yankee Stadium as she was able to pick his face out of the crowd using a magnifying glass.

Little by little, he was able to bring his family to this country. First his brother Curt, then sister Irene and his mother and finally his brother Justin. He always regretted it terribly that he could not save his remaining brother and sister as they disappeared in the Holocaust.

He met and married my mother and became part of the extended Baum family. Then he was able to start his own family. They adopted my brother, Ken and then finally had me after 10 years of trying. He was an integral part of 2 family businesses. In the butcher business with my Uncle Curt, he would wake up everyday at 4:30 so he could be at the meat market to pick up the best cuts of meat. I remember the smell of meat in all of the cars that we owned as I grew up and the fruit and chocolate graham crackers that he always stashed under the seat. I also remember that he was so exhausted by the end of the day that he would just eat dinner and then fall asleep on the couch. All of my friends from Kew Gardens still recall when their parents would buy meat from my father how he would give all the kids a piece of boloney or salami. Then he became an excellent frozen foods salesman. Years after he retired, when he drove past a group of stores he would still pan his head back and forth looking for sales prospects.

He had an incredible thirst for knowledge and an even more incredible ability to retain that knowledge. He taught himself about the Stock Market during a time when the average man never involved himself as it was too complex. The New York Times was his bible which he could recite on a daily basis.
And then his other lifelong obsessions-Golf and Bridge! He played golf until he was 85 years old. His biggest disappointment after major heart surgery was that he was no longer able to play. He was a self-taught Life Master Bridge player and continued to play until the last few months of his life.
There was the world famous Sunday morning pancakes. The artistry, the care, the artery-hardening milk, butter and cream that went into making those magically thin pancakes. The “Kaddaful Klews”- those huge German dumplings that only he knew how to make. The Passover Seders that went on for hours but seemed like minutes.

His sense of humor. He taught me my first jokes and my wife will tell you that unfortunately I still tell them- over and over again. He took me to my first ballgame, my first concert, my first Opera. He later shook his head in disbelief, wondering where he went wrong when I became a Mets fan and a Jazz lover.
Even his 90’s, he still appreciated a beautiful woman. When an attractive lady passed by, he would say “ You know, that ain’t hay!”

We all know that he was a man with definite opinions and views on life. He was the only man that absolutely knew that even the Pope was Jewish! I remember receiving an excited call from him last year, when there was a rumor going around that John Kerry's maternal grandfather was Jewish.
And always the music! The rich classical music that was the backdrop of his life. When he explained his music to you, you did not just listen to it, you experienced it, you felt it. It was like being part of some Master Class.

Finally, there were the two great sustaining joys in his life- my mother and Dorothy. Can you imagine! Most of us are lucky if we can find one life partner, he found two! I was so blessed to grow up in home with an abundance of love, where both of my parents would do anything for me and for each other. The devotion that he showed to my mother during her several years of illness was the stuff of legends.

And then he met Dorothy. They became so close they were like two halves of the same heartbeat. Dorothy- you were the kindest, most loving companion to him. I really did not think that anyone could match the dedication and love that my father shared with my mother but somehow you matched it. We love you so much. I realized recently that you are not a step mom to me but my second mom.

No matter what fate threw at him, he fought back and incorporated it all into his life experience. Whether it was the Depression or World War II, he fought through it. The Holocaust, he fought through it. Losing my mother and my brother at an early age, he fought through it. Outliving all of his family, he fought through it. All of the physical ailments in the last few years. No matter what, it did not defeat him.
Well Dad, you don’t have to fight anymore, you can now rest.

The last time that we saw him in the hospital, they lightened up on the sedative so we could speak to him for a few minutes. As he opened his eyes, a tear ran down the side of his cheek. Even though he was in pain, I firmly believe that this was a tear of joy as he realized that we were there with him. He knew he was surrounded by love.

Somehow, I always held to this childish notion that my father was indestructible, that he would live forever. I know that every person that ever met him was changed in some way. A stranger, meeting him for the first time, would realize instantly that this was a special person. After all, isn’t that really what makes us immortal-the ability to affect others, to be different, to stand out, to be remembered.
His love and memories surround and sustains us always. As you leave the service today, I will play Seigfreid’s Funeral March in honor of my father. When you hear it now and in the future, think of my father, remember his stories, remember his warmth and love and he truly will live on with us forever.